Revitalization of Ancient Institutions: The 1394 Governance Code for the Joseon Dynasty of Korea by Jeong Do-jeon
The Code of Governance for the Joseon Dynasty written by Jeong Do-jeon in 1394 was the first legal document written in justification of a new Korean dynasty. The eminent Korean historian Han Young-woo has credited the political scheme formulated in the Code for promoting democratic ideas of power separation. This study argues that the Code cannot be considered as an attempt to introduce a new power structure in this way, as it was primarily concerned with revitalizing idealized Confucian institutions mobilized by the ideological force of weixin 維新 (revitalization) of guzhi 古制 (ancient institutions) and with creating a society modelled on Confucian values and hierarchical order laid out in the Chinese work, the Zhouli (Rites of Zhou). In his Code, Jeong used this system of government structure as the principle of ancient state institutions, to justify the position of the new Joseon throne, and he also adopted the legal format of the 1331 Yuan law book, Jingshi dadian, in which royal authority took precedence over that of the government. This study emphasizes not only Jeong Do-jeon’s conservative adherence to the continuity of state institutions from the previous Goryeo dynasty (a replica of the Chinese Tang and Song systems), but also the priority he gave to the new Joseon monarch as a stabilizing force within the new dynasty, and argues that the Code was written to ensure continuity and priority, and cannot be considered as an attempt to introduce a new power structure.